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A contrast of styles

September 18, 2016

Tours and Angouleme in France are separated by just over 200 kilometres, but in terms of architectural styles their cathedrals are centuries apart. The Cathédrale Saint-Pierre d’Angoulême is twelth century Romanesque and, although it has been knocked about over the centuries, its facade remains very much early medieval. (Ignore the rather absurd conical tops on the towers, like inverted ice cream cones, which are a nineteenth century addition).

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The façade is a reminder to all and sundry of the need for a godly life, with statues of the damned suffering their uncomfortable fate while the pious contemplate the prospect of eternal bliss.

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If that’s a bit too serious for you, take a look at St George in his coat of mail riding a charger to slay the fallen dragon. A reclining princess holds up her hands in grateful thanks.

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The façade of Saint Gatien’s Cathedral in Tours could hardly be more different. Construction of the cathedral was slow, even by medieval standards, and the building is a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic, but the west front flourishes with fine flamboyant carving. Passers by are confronted not with a parade of the good, bad and ugly, but rather a display of intricate carving and tracery.

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Inside the cathedral, slim gothic piers are interspersed by the rows of windows, with the east end lit by a wall of stained glass.

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Stained glass also adorns the transepts and west end of the cathedral.

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The interior of the Cathédrale Saint-Pierre d’Angoulême is, by comparison, rather squat and stubby, with rounded Norman arches and a low ceiling. Although much refurbished in the nineteenth century, for better or for worse, there is no escaping its early medieval appearance.

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What Angouleme lacks is wall paintings. Tours, on the other hand, has an intriguingly faded fresco of a sword swinging villain about to decapitate a damsel in distress. On a nearby pillar, a lance wielding warrior sallies forth to fight the good fight.

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When we visited Tours and Angouleme, both cathedrals were largely empty, perhaps because their cities are too small to attract the tourist hoards. But both cathedrals, in their different ways, merit a visit.

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